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Sylvia Heisel once owned a fashion company, but the time came to switch to a new career. She discovered fashion technology and has been very successful at it. Learn the steps she took to pivot to fashion technology from fashion design and how she was able to apply her fashion design skills along the way.
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Alternate Titles For The Algorithm:
From Owning A Fashion Brand To Designing Wearable Tech
How To Cultivate A Career In Wearable Tech
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Hey, y’all. This is Elyse Y. Robinson when nobody wants to work though, podcast today, we have Sylvia Heigl. And let’s get right on to introduce yourself, Sylvia.
So hey, at least thank you for having me. Um, yeah, so I am a fashion designer, I guess is kind of what I consider myself or what goes on, like, you know, tax returns at all. But that being said, I don’t actually make any clothes at this point. And I guess my, my, my first big career change was that I had this storybook career where I was a fashion designer with a brand and, and I started super, super young. And did you know what? Lots and lots of people kind of dream of building their business and, and doing it in something that you love. And then it kind of turned into a total nightmare of something that I hated. And something that was not, you know, and that for a while it was really good. And I made money, and it was great. And then I think I’m super proud of my, the fact that I got out. And that, that when you you know, I think that the thing for me, I’m old, and I’ve had a lot of different things I’ve done. And I think one of the most important things is to go, Okay, this year that I am doing has been great. And it’s not going to be going forwards. And it’s time to move on before it comes around and bites you in the ass and you have to leave. Or it puts you in a different in a situation where you are kind of stuck because you didn’t leave in time. So that’s kind of an I still get from a lot of people because because I was a fashion designer and everyone thought that was really glamorous. And I made clothes. And I still have all these people who are basically, my friends because they wanted free stuff. And that kind of thing. And like you’d have all this like and you know, and I had press and I had all that. So it was this thing where people are like, Well, how could you leave that? And why would you ever want to quit that’s so great and do other things. And, and I’ll never do anything as glamorous as that. But I’ll never do anything again that says like, makes me as miserable as I was before I got out on doing that. And I think that’s kind of a part of my story. And so now I kind of do all these really crazy projects between fashion and technology. And I’m really, you know, because I’m always kind of doing stuff where I’m excited about the future and that keeps me motivated. I’m not someone that’s a good stay with it. Stay in the same position forever person.
Yeah, you touched on a lot. On the last podcast guests, she said that she left her career when you know before the effort phase and I’ve always been at the FFA is when I decided to leave and burn bridges. And so she was like you have to be you have to leave before you’re at the FFA is um, and I was listening to a podcast last night. And, you know, my mother used to tell me, you know, focus, you know, why are you jumping from this to that and it’s just, it’s a part of your personality. You want to touch and learn all these different things and be excited and I mean in in the podcast, that person was saying that it adds to your skill set, and you can talk about it. So Many things and have all these experiences, and hopefully it’ll make you money. So jumping from one thing to another is not a bad thing. What was the things that? Basically, what was the catalyst that made you leave and transition to something else? Because you touched on that you hate it certain things?
So yeah, I mean, I think, you know, the first, the first catalyst was you the economy and money that it as a business, it started getting harder for us to get paid. And we could see that a lot of the stores we were selling to are in trouble. And that, it, you know, one of the things especially I don’t, I think in any business, but especially in fashion, once you create an identity, it’s harder to change your brand, than it is to just get out and start something new, it’s easier to start a new brand than it is to change an old one that, that, you know, I try and do anything that was new? And the answer was customers didn’t want that. They wanted what they always had. And, and I just everything around me was saying, okay, the world is changed, you know, when it was a time when the economy was going down. And when there was a lot of new technology a lot the way there is now going on where there’s just, there was a lot of stuff. And and it was like, Okay, I just knew I had to, you know, I knew we were going to just start to lose money, and I had a payroll to be responsible for and I had, you know, rent to pay on a showroom and this kind of thing. And it was like, well, we’re not gonna be able to keep doing that forever. And so I didn’t, it wasn’t like, okay, one day, it wasn’t like quitting a job where you can go, Okay, I’m out. That’s it, you walk out the door, and you’re done. It had to be kind of wound down over a number of months, where it was like, Okay, I’m going to, you know, I’m going to slowly, you know, let everybody know, as gently as I can, and some of them completely got it. And some of them completely did not have like, this company is not going forwards. And that’s just the reality of it. And, and sort of, we’re not renewing leases, we’re not doing anything, you know, and sort of winding it down. And then at the same time for me going, Okay, what, what, I gotta go out there and learn new things, I’ve got to see a new world and understand, you know, I had no idea, I sort of had an idea that technology was informing the changes, and that I had to technology and sustainability. Because that was something I deeply cared about. But I didn’t know where they fit in. So I kind of didn’t have a, I didn’t have a direction. I just knew I had to learn stuff and change.
Talk about the process of, you know, where you went to learn new skills, what skills did you learn? How did you figure out what skills that you that you needed to learn to make this transition?
Um, I went What did I do? I think, you know, I think I went to every kind of every trade show, every meetup, every everything like that, that I thought could possibly be interesting. Every, you know.
I would kind of go down the rabbit hole on, you know, anything that had that I could find that had fashion and technology or innovation or design. I mean, um, I think I spent, you know, I spent a lot of time going to things that were, you know, UI UX kind of oriented before I realized that that was completely different than anything I did, but that had the most similar descriptions. And, and the first thing where I really found any kind of fit for myself was in wearable tech kind of products. And, and working with, with with companies developing wearables. And I think I think the first thing was to go to Yeah, the first thing was really to go to every trade show every event, every free anything I could, like, walk through more so than anything online, and anything of YouTube or anything, it was like going to things where they actually like, see people or see businesses or see real life stuff, and get a sense of what was out there. Really. And, and kind of learning that way. And then from there, yeah, kind of then from there, kind of trying to hone in more on what could I do? And what would what would people ever hire me for?
Gotcha. Yeah, I guess one thing that a lot of people run into is, they don’t know what they don’t know. So Right. You know, I don’t want to say it’s a waste of time, because anything that you find out about or learn about is, is never a waste of time, you might find something that you that you love, and you’re really interested in. And that goes back to what I was saying earlier on, you know, all these skills that you have. But yeah, I understand on that, one thing that I like to do when I go to new places is fine meetups and, and events and things like that, um, I’ve lived in a lot of places. So I’ll just, I’ll just go out and, you know, walk around. One thing I used to do is hop on, like, if they had a public transportation system, go to a new stop, and then just walk around. Yeah, probably have been in some dangerous neighborhoods because of that, but Well, yeah, but I’m still hearing. Oh, yeah.
I think it’s Yeah, I think that’s where it’s like, you know, yeah, just experiencing stuff and getting a sense of what it really is. Yeah,
all these things come at a cost. What did it cost you?
Um, well, number one, it cost me financially. But that was inevitable, because it would have cost me a lot more. If I had kept going with my business. I was, you know, the fact that I got out early enough, left me without debt from it, or without, you know, and with some savings. So, but but I don’t think, you know, I will probably never earn as much as I did during the years if that was good. Again, I probably those were, you know, there were a couple of years that were really good. And I probably will never earn that much. Freelance again. But never say never, you know, it’s, so it costs me on that. I don’t, you know, I don’t know besides that, because I think that life is just this progressive thing. And you have to keep the biggest cost is if you stay in the same place, wishing that things were like they used to be. And the older I get, the more friends I have, where they’re going, like, oh, yeah, you know, back in the day, and it was so amazing. And it’s like, I don’t know, and it doesn’t matter, because it’s not back in the day now. So here we are. So I don’t know on that of cost. I mean, I don’t think it’s I think it’s really hard to change and do anything new. And I’ve certainly gone in a lot of kind of random directions and had startups that failed since then. But But I think you just keep You know, to me, it’s more exciting to have a startup that fails without hurting other people than to have a job of gotta go to every day hating it.
Did you have support of your circle? You know, people think when you make a drastic change that you’re, you’re insane. Why would you give this up for this?
I did not. I did not. And I did. And that was a really, that was a really hard part of it is, I would say that I did. Um, I met my husband after I had closed my business, or sort of as it was in its final stages. And I would say that part of it when we met, part of the reason that really worked is that he was really he was one of the only people that was really supportive of my leaving it and changing. And that was really painful that I did not have, you know, support. What I found was that, you know, a lot of my friends were in it, they were my friends, because I was a fashion designer. And that was exciting. And I got invited to cool places and had clothes to give away. And so I lost a lot of friends, but it did clarify who were my friends. And my mother 100% didn’t understand. I mean, she just, you know, to her, it was like, You’re doing what, and you’re interested in technology, like, that’s kind of weird. I mean, she was really like, she thought I was crazy and couldn’t understand it. And there was a lot of drama around that. I don’t think she ever understood it. So. But but they were, you know, I will say my family is supportive. They weren’t like they weren’t going to kind of cut me off or not talk to me, but they will never, you know, they’ll never understand to them. It’s just, you know, how could you do that you had such a great career, and no, but I think also that’s generational, someone that, you know, they came from backgrounds where you, you worked for a company, and that company supported you. And you stayed in that world, they weren’t familiar with the, the idea of freelance still, like some other thing, and
you touched on so much. I mean, when I left my audit job, I had a traumatic event, my mother, my mother passed away, and my father was like, Why did you leave that job? I’m like, Do you not understand that my mother passed? Right now. And, you know, I ended up moving to Mexico, and, you know, to mourn and to heal. And I was like, you know, I’ll do this for I gave myself 90 days. And then about a month and a half, and I ended up calling my father and saying, I’m not coming back. I love this so much. And, yeah, I mean, our parents didn’t. I mean, my, my mother and father are boomers. Yeah. And so they didn’t have outsourcing. They didn’t have, you know, h1 B’s and, and, you know, in sourcing, you know, and they didn’t have at will employment and all this other kind of stuff. So, it’s, it’s crazy that, you know, they’re getting on us, and it’s just a totally different environment. Ya know, my parents worked for the government. And that’s, that’s why I work for the government at a point in my life, but yeah, they they work there. I mean, so they retired. Yeah,
that’s the, you know, well, they, you know, my I mean, my parents didn’t, I started my business really young. And they didn’t understand at the time that I was dropping out of school to start my business that was, you know, major drama one, because they came from backgrounds where they were the first ones in both of them were the first in their families to have college education and get like, white collar jobs and no, and they were successful that way of, you know, education was everything to them. And then here, you know, they get this kid that’s like, going to drop out How to college and do fashion. They were horrified and, and then I was successful at it. And then and then I’m gonna go and quit, like, and be like, Okay, I’m going to, you know, figure it out and do other things that interests me and that that just didn’t, you know, just didn’t didn’t work for them. They couldn’t they couldn’t wrap their brains around it, but I think it is, it’s totally different now. It’s totally a different world of that. And we’re really lucky, we’re really, really, really lucky to be in a time where we can do that.
Definitely, definitely, I will say that I had to, you know, tell my father that, you know, if I could do it once, I should be able to do it again, ya know, replicated. And, and so he got off my back about it.
Yeah. And it rolls his eyes. And it’s like, yeah, okay, you know, whatever.
Right, right, right. Right. Right. Right. And so, next question is, what was the process? I mean, you kind of touched on it that you went to meetups and things like that, how did you get someone to take a take a chance on you and say, hey, well, you, you had your own company, you know, I find that being an entrepreneur, people don’t don’t want to, you know, mess with you. Because they’re like, Okay, well, they’re entrepreneur, they can just leave, and we train them. And, you know, they’ll the goals start something else, and they might be a competitor or something like that, too.
Yeah, um, I mean, I guess for me, a lot of that was, at first being the fact that I had such a different background, I kind of had to, I had to kind of embrace, walking into, like, meeting with people and going, okay. You’re like, you’re a technology company, and I’m the fashion designer, I’m going to be like, that wacky person that comes in there, that is completely different to everything that, that this company does, and I’ll but you need somebody like that. Um, and I think part of that, of being freelance was that, that and I still struggle with this, because I think I always want to, I go in, and I work with a company and I want to fit in, and I want to, you know, I want these people to like me, I want to be part of the team. And then it’s like, now the only way I’m going to be successful is to be that kind of crazy outsider, and be myself in it, and have them kind of be afraid of me or respect me on that for who I am. Because otherwise, it just doesn’t, doesn’t ever work. And I think, you know, the first the first jobs for a while I was, you know, everything I was working on was with wearables. And with that, it was like, you know, it was mostly hardware companies, it was hardware companies developing like smart products, and things and, and they had no background in consumer goods or anything like that. And I had to learn the, the engineering side and start to understand what they do. And they did not have to learn what I did, they just had to kind of trust me on it a lot of times, and they weren’t interested in learning it either. I mean, that was something I had to accept is that they didn’t want as a freelancer and I think I’ve found this on a lot of jobs is that people don’t want they don’t they’re not interested in what I do. They’re only interested in my coming in and solving their problem. And, and I’ll And whereas, I’m viewing it as holistically, this is an interesting job for me, and I’m really, I get kind of emotionally attached almost to what they’re building. But to them, I’m just somebody on the design, you know, and and they want a deliverable. But yeah, I don’t know if that answers your question. But yeah, I think it’s hard to I think you have to go in I think the main thing is to go in and be yourself and find also start with small jobs start with really small things to test out, you know, I did some work and I still do some work where if I’m, I’ll work on something for free, or for very low money in a new area to be able to kind of learn as I’m going. I’ve worked on a lot of, for a while I worked on a lot of Kickstarter projects, and stuff like that, where I wouldn’t get paid, but I would get a lot of experience. Because that was someplace where people needed they needed somebody with my skills. And so it was, yeah, but it wasn’t, you know, it was all most of those I never got paid on. But at least he gave me a resume.
Did you get any of the product for free? Yeah, I mean,
I mean, you get product, you get a little but, um, I think also you develop along the way you develop certain skills, I would, and I would recommend this if a developing some skills that are kind of dumb things you can kind of drop in, in a lot of situations you have like, like, you probably have a lot of accounting and auditing skills where it may not be really fun for you. But you could do that as freelance work by the hour if you need to. And like I do, I do some work where I’m doing digital fashion design and tech pack, which is what the fashion industry uses for their showing factories, what you know, it’s kind of like the document that goes to factories on a garment. And that is not very creative, interesting or inspiring work, particularly. But it is something where it’s easy to go on to Upwork or a lot of other platforms and sort of connect easily and get part time jobs that fill in. I mean, I, you know, I spend part of my time doing projects I’m really interested in and projects where I’m a partner, and they’re creative, and, and then part of my time doing freelance work, that I know, I’m not worrying about my rent.
You touched on a lot. Some of my other questions matter of fact, more so of, you know, taking on things so you can develop other skills. And you know, I touched on that earlier in a podcast on having varied interests. So, you know, like, you’re saying, I can use my accounting or audit skills to freelance if I want to, or tax or something like that. And I thought about it, but it’s just, I have so much stuff going on already. I just I started this podcast, like two weeks ago. And it’s like, okay, it’s booming. So, you know, things like that. But yeah, what and I also want to touch on, you know, the, the personality change of working in fashion design to tech, because I’ve experienced the same issue. I you know, I call it my business versus my tech brain. And that’s actually one of my podcasts where I introduce myself and so business, I can get up in front of people do presentations, and you know, work a room and things like that, and, you know, do research and writing tech, you know, I have to spit things off the top of my brain instantly. I am not bubbly. I sit in a corner and do nothing. I’m not nothing but program or whatever. And when I was at Microsoft, I ran into these problems of, you know, my co workers are math majors. They’re their computer science majors and they’re not. They’re not bubbly. And they’re like, you’re you’re you’re the weirdo not I’m the weirdo. You’re the weirdo because you’re supposed to be a computer science major and, you know, sit in the corner and not really want to fool with people. Yep, so I mean, I guess she we should talk to dwell back into that deeper on the personality change sometimes to have have careers
Yeah, um, mess, that gets, you know, for me that gets into a whole thing of soup like that is, that is a whole thing I mean of, because I went from, you know, in working in fashion is about, I would say, you know, 85% women that I dealt with that. And, and so I went from, from, especially with with traditional fashion, certainly it is, you know, this very kind of female centric and bubbly and fun, and it’s about being pretty and stuff, which I always kind of felt, I think somewhat of an outsider in, but it was also something where I was familiar with it, because I did it for so long. And then I went into tech staff, and I’d walk in and you know, there’d be three women in the room of 200 people and have some stuff, especially with, you know, with hardware. Computer hardware is not a very female centric area. And then now, and and I’ll from, you know, I also then went on and did a lot with 3d printing, which I still do in 3d printing is an industry where it is currently 15%. Female. And so, you know, you’re always kind of the stranger in the room, and it’s a challenge. It’s definitely, you know, it’s definitely a challenge of what’s what’s your persona, what, who are you? How much do you let that get to you? How, you know? I struggle with that a lot of trying to figure out and have a kind of public face for, for who I am in business situations or in work situations, because I think that is really, you know, it’s a really big part of it. I wish I had a better answer. Yeah, what was your solution? I’d love to, you know, yeah,
my solution is just take me as, as I am, you know, it was to the point where, you know, I’m messaging my coworker. And I’m asking them how they’re doing and stuff, and they’re just like, Yo, what is wrong with you? And I am an introvert, I’m actually an introvert, I’m not an extrovert, but I can put that aside, and, you know, get my money. That’s how I see it, I’m gonna put it aside and I’m gonna get my money. And so, you know, audit was was good to me. Because I can sit behind the computer, do research and writing to an extent, and then go out and do interviews, you know what I’m saying? Right? So it was like, and I would say, 70% of research and writing 30%, you know, customer facing people facing. And then when I got into tech, I was customer facing too, but it was a different type of personality to where they’re like, We need to get it done right now. There is no Hi, no, thank you. No, no, anything, you know, and I’m just like, oh my god, they’re not even courteous. When in business, you know, you’ll get those people where, you know, they want it right now. And you know, time is money, but even so, they’re like, yeah, thank you at least. So, I just say, you know, take me as I am, and, you know, every now and then I’ll have to, you know, shut down a little bit of myself, but I’m just like, No, I’m just I’m not going to do that. Because that hurts me in the long run. That’s that’s just how I see it. And I mean, you touched on a lot with the male dominated and all that other kind of stuff. We can we can go into that all all freaking day long. But um, yeah, that’s, that’s just how I see it. Ya know? I guess to an extent tech is changing because more women are getting into it, you know? And more people that are the opposite of the stereotype of tech. Yeah, I’ve always loved Tech, I taught myself how to program when I was like nine or 10 years old. And I was going to be a computer science major. And I got into prestigious San Jose State their computer science program, I went to the orientation. And I saw nothing but men in there. And I was like, Oh, my God, I’m not going to be able to. I was the only black person I was the only woman in the orientation. And I’m just like, yeah, no, I got scared. And then I seen equations on the board. And I’m like, oh, no, this I’m going to do. And then outside of that, you know, I took classes at the community college. And so by that time, I was like a junior, and I was fine trying to find an internship. And I couldn’t find an internship to save my life. So I’m like, okay, they’re saying there’s a shortage of, you know, people that want to be in this field, but, um, I’m not getting any traction. So then that’s when I switched to audit, I won’t necessarily say it was because of the male dominance or anything like that, it was more so I couldn’t find the internship, when I got to audit, and I got an internship, I gotta got, I got a job, like, three weeks after I was done with my accounting courses and all this other kind of stuff. I’m like, what, what’s what’s wrong?
Yeah. Yeah, yeah. Yeah, it’s just all these, you know, there still is, you know, there’s still a reality on some of that stuff, where you have to, you know, you have to have your identity, be really confident, and then fight it and fight the fact that you’re going to walk into a lot of situations and not look like everybody else. And that sucks. And that should not be it’s better than it ever was. But it’s kind of still, you know, certainly in the, in some stuff, it’s still there, I think, but less so than ever. And it’s just about being as strong as you can. And confident. You know, I, I don’t I’m totally different subject. But like, all this stuff, I’m doing a lot of stuff with now with augmented reality, and with designing clothes, and filters and things for AR and VR, and for Metaverse, fashion and things, and a lot of the people in that world that I’m dealing with, you know, just use their avatars, and we all just meet online, so you have no idea what anything about anyone’s identity is? And it’s kind of wonderful, you know, it’s kind of like, there is something really, really different about dealing with people when you have absolutely no idea about anything of their physical reality. You don’t know what country they’re in, you don’t know what gender you don’t know, anything. You just know, the the pixels that they’ve chosen to put up as their image, kinda. And also, but I don’t know, you know, we’ll see where that goes.
Yeah. Because, yeah, I mean, they’re, they’re, they’re big on identity. I mean, they’re, they’re huge on identity right now. So I don’t know how, you know, augmented reality will play into that, and meta, aka, Facebook and reverse and things like that. So, yeah, that I mean, that’s, I mean, that’s a new field. And I mean, outside of that, you know, circling back around to our parents, like, all these fields didn’t exist. Yeah. Yeah. So you know, it’s like, oh, that’s fair. I want to I want to do that now. Yeah. Fair, you know, so it’s, it’s really crazy. Last question. And then you can give us a spiel on you know, where to find you and all that good stuff. But what are some tips and tricks that you would give to someone that first of all wants to transition into your field? And then Excuse me?
Sorry, I’m still getting over a cold. And then outside of that, what tips and tricks would you give someone in general that wants to switch careers just in general?
In terms of just in general, I would say just do it. Get you know, educate yourself as much as you can and just do it. The longer you wait, the harder it gets on any thing. But look around look before you leap, don’t just you know, but look around, try as many different things, do everything you can and just do it. In terms of my work, it is a lot now. It’s digital fashion and crazy, crazy, tremendous amount of opportunity right now. Because everything’s changing super fast. And I guess I would say that the the biggest changes and the thing that, that a lot of the digital skills are based on software that’s free now. And I think that’s a huge difference is that like, right now the game engines, if you’re going to be anything related to fashion, or product design, or interactive, anything, Metaverse design of any kind, Blender Unity and Unreal Engine. And all of these software’s are really hard. But they’re free. And that’s a big, like, that’s a big, big opportunity for anyone that’s willing to learn them. Because it used to be that if you were designing anything, any kind of product design, you kind of had to go to a bigger company, because a lot of the software that was needed was expensive. And you couldn’t just do it independently. And if you learned it in school, you couldn’t then update your knowledge unless you had the subscriptions and all that. And now it’s just like, there’s this incredible opportunity for whoever can, you know, whoever wants to be creative and wants to put in the time learning all of it. And that’s on the you know, there is a lot of that also on programming for it as well as designing in it. But, but I think that’s a super exciting area. And I think, you know, we’re going to see a lot of digital products have consumed, you know, fashion and beauty and stuff and all coming out in the next couple of years. And it’s really exciting being a creator and being part of that now.
Gotcha. So, so right here, what a time to be alive. Yeah. And Tom waits for no one. Go ahead. And you know, tell us where to find you. And
so yeah, so um, I guess well, my website is hazel.co.co. And my Instagram is Hazel underscore CO for my work and and then project that is coming up really soon. That’s my kind of passion project is 3d met address. And for that, I have one partner on it. And then a lot, a lot of collaborators working on it. And we’re doing a it’s a 3d printed dress with the names of 300 women in web three and stem plus bios of all those women attached to it. And the dress will have one of the physical version of it. It’s 3d printed, and one that’s a digital version of it. That will be in it will. It will debut as a project in decentraland in Metaverse fashion week at the end of March 2023. Um, and then it’ll be kind of spun off from there. And we’re working on other a lot of other digital wearables and things from it. But the main thing of the whole project is to kind of celebrate women who are innovating in web three and some of them are really big name well known and some of them are up and coming and some of them are. A few of them are historic have have led up to it. But anyway, it’s about celebrating, empowering and promoting all these women that are innovating. And then giving back and hopefully raising some money for education in that. And see, so that’s yeah, that’s my passion project. So we have at 3d met address on Instagram and Twitter, which are just getting started. They’re not really anything there yet. 3d met address.com. And then I’m on Twitter at Silvia Hazel. Although I’m not sure how long I’m going to stay on Twitter at this point. We’ll see where that goes. Yeah, that’s me. And I welcome anybody to reach out. I’d love to connect.
All right, thank you for being on the podcast. Thank you guys for watching, and hope to see you next time.
Cool. Thank you.